6 Proactive Responses to Negative Reviews

2018 was a strong year for tourism in Vienna.

International arrivals totaled around 7.5 million, hotel revenues rose 12 percent in 11 months, and 94 percent of Viennese reported a positive attitude toward visitors.

But in this season, the Vienna Tourist Board tackled a new difficulty: negative reviews. While many firms are split on whether to confront or ignore public complaints, Vienna chose a lighthearted tactic, turning so-called “flaws” into strengths by highlighting them in gorgeous photo-based advertising campaigns.

In a series of ads mounted in the London underground and in digital bus stops, the Vienna Tourist Board portrayed five fun and beautiful Viennese moments overlaid with mean comments and poor ratings. In one ad, a romantic picture of a couple cuddled in a boat on the serene Danube was captioned “Boooring!” and given zero stars.

To highlight how polarizing comments can drag an experience down, the “See Vienna, not #Vienna” ads challenged readers: “Who decides what you like? Discover your own Vienna.”

Simple Strategies for Responding to Your Critics

Responding to negative reviews is difficult.

Bad reviews hurt, and sometimes they are dishonest and downright cruel. But Vienna was right to address them. Stats show that 95% percent of holidaymakers read at least seven reviews before booking a trip. And consumers share perspective. Ninety-four percent say that a bad review has convinced them to avoid a business, and 88% of people read reviews to determine the quality of a business.

Want to turn the tide of negativity? Here are a few simple strategies:

1. Personalize the Response

Reviews come from real people, so whenever possible, use the name of the individual you’re addressing.

2. Say Thanks

Critics occasionally bring to light something you’ve missed.

Even if you disagree with their opinion, show positivity, like “I appreciate you bringing this to our attention,” or “Thank you for taking the time to let us know.”

3. Sympathize

Apologizing may not right a wrong, but it is a powerful demonstration of your humility and care for customers.

Express regret that your service did not satisfy, that an experience did not match expectations, or for rude behavior or botched communication.

4. Take Responsibility or Offer Alternatives

Whenever possible, own your mistakes and avoid excuses.

Phrases like “we are so sorry for missing the mark,” “that’s on us,” “that never should have happened,” or “this is certainly not the standard our clients deserve” can go a long way toward defusing resentment.

If you’re able to offer compensation, go the extra mile to satisfy a disgruntled customer. If not, publicly pledge to do better next time.

5. Embrace Your Critics

Like the Vienna Tourist Board, you may choose to make light of bad reviews or welcome them in some way.

This may be as simple as letting them exist alongside other (positive or average) reviews, which exemplifies transparency and demonstrates a spectrum of customer experiences.

And some reviews can be leveraged with humor or irony, like the Snowbird Ski Resort, which highlighted negative skier reviews to boost its elite, high-caliber appeal (“What’s ‘Too Advanced’ for Greg might be just right for you”). With humor, you can harness the empathy and understanding of customers who roll their eyes at the more absurd comments.

6. Make Peace with Criticism

Fault-finders come and go, but they don’t have to be the downfall of your reputation.

Reviews are a great way to build personal connections, to engage the general public, or to learn from blind spots.

By embracing negative reviews, your company can even benefit from the empathy of others, boosting a positive response from readers at large.

How to Make Performance Reviews More Effective and Enjoyable

Performance reviews don’t have to be something to sweat about.

These conversations offer a valuable feedback loop for people to ask questions, identify needs, and drive professional growth.

Building Conversations that Count

Whether you’re conducting or participating in a review, here are a few strategies to make the most of your next review:

Share Facts and Document Goals

Before a review, make sure you are clear about what is expected.

Review job descriptions and jot down ways success has been achieved or where one person is being overloaded. Include measurable data (i.e., project output, sales goals achieved, etc.) that is understood by all participants. Link any examples (like improvement strategies or success stories) to the facts. Then, conclude by recording time-sensitive, measurable goals that are linked to the objectives discussed in the review.

Questions to Consider:

  • What’s working?
  • What’s not working?
  • What has been your greatest accomplishment or challenge this year?
  • Where do you feel there is room to improve?
  • What’s something you don’t think I see but should know?

Regularly Document Progress

To avoid the “dread” factor, intentionally calendar regular check-ins that are communicated in person or through e-mail.

While many yearly goals end up at the bottom of the drawer, monthly or quarterly updates make space for effective dialogue and regular course corrections. This relieves pressure from the yearly review while keeping everyone on the same page.

Questions to Consider:

  • In what areas are you delivering the best results?
  • What are the biggest challenges you face in your current position?
  • Where has your team been helping or hindering your work?

Build From Personal Strengths

While everyone has particular tasks to accomplish, each person has gifts that can positively impact the company in unique ways.

During reviews, ask this question: “What 20 percent of my contribution generates 80 percent of my impact at work?” Work together to clarify untapped potential and discuss how this could be optimized for greater results. If needed, seek extra support, resources, or an alteration of current responsibilities.

Questions to Consider:

  • Do you have everything needed to perform your job?
  • What are the main drivers for success in your position?
  • What skills do you have that could be used more effectively?

A Structure That Builds Success

Want to create a positive environment for good communication?

Structure your reviews around facts, goals, and strengths to make your company as productive as possible.

Transform Customer Complaints into Great Reviews and Referrals

In business, problems always arise.

Things malfunction, customers get frustrated, or miscommunication causes delays. However annoying, big problems are still a gateway for better interaction. Consider this example from Toyota:

The year was 2013, and Webin Manzana noticed the dashboard of his 2008 Camry was melting due to the sweltering weather in the Philippines. Because the warranty on his vehicle had long since lapsed, Toyota Motors Philippines refused to get involved.

Manzana, frustrated with the inherent defect in the dashboard material, decided to fax a letter directly to the CEO of Toyota, Akio Toyoda. To his shock and delight, the next day he received a call from Toyota Motors Philippines, arranging to pick up the Camry and replace the dashboard immediately.

3 Ways to Resolve Sticky Situations

When handled poorly, customer complaints can deal a heavy blow to your business.

Here are three ways to resolve sticky situations while improving relationships with your clients.

1. Respond Quickly and Calmly

Whether you respond through e-mail or in a more personal way, time is essential in handling complaints.

Even if you can’t immediately fix a problem, remember that the thing your customer wants most is an acknowledgment of the issue and an affirmation of the frustration they feel. Listening patiently can diffuse many situations, especially if you actively sympathize and ask clarifying questions.

Put out fires quickly, and remain calm by reminding yourself the customer is not necessarily upset with you, but with the situation. 

2. Tell the Customer How You Plan to Address the Problem (in detail with a specific time frame)

Once you understand why the customer is upset, you can begin to work on solutions.

If customer oversight was the only issue, a specific reparation (like partial refunds, replacements, or credits on future orders) might quickly mend the hard feelings. If you want to go a step farther, consider offering the customer not only a full refund or replacement but also a bonus item. If you are replacing a T-shirt, could you send them a second T-shirt to give away to a friend?

Every day, brand trust diminishes because of negative customer service experiences. Therefore, the psychology of offering a resolution cannot be understated.

In some situations, it may be best to ask the customer what he feels should be done to best resolve the issue. This allows a person to feel they have won (or that they were correct), and that your organization is willing to go the extra mile to make things right.

3. Keep Working to Ensure the Customer is Satisfied

After a problem is resolved, what steps will you take to follow up on your client again?

Can you call a week later, or send a follow-up e-mail after three days? Circling back gives you the chance to find out if you handled the issue thoroughly, whether a solution was effective, or if the customer had other questions.

Most people will be impressed that you take this extra step to solicit their opinion or ensure their satisfaction.

A Silver Lining

Though handling complaints can be tough, over time, it gives you greater insight into your products, your services, or into the minds of your clients.

Effective complaint management not only resolves problems, but it can transform people into advocates for your brand and sources for future referrals.